Monday, 25 October 2010

Writing for Children

I was recently asked for writing advice (like I know anything!) by someone who wants to get into the children's books market.

Unfortunately I don't think I was very encouraging. What little I've gleaned over the years suggests that it is actually the most difficult market to write for. There are several reasons for this:
  • The children's market is pretty saturated already because new children are coming along all the time and they are happy to re-read the same thing their older siblings read three years ago. So books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which is 40 years old) or The Gruffalo have a constantly replenished market of excited new readers. A book for adults dates much more quickly, and adults are generally much more demanding of fresh, new books or the latest idea or twist. If you'll permit me the pun, children's books have a longer shelf life.
  • There is a perception that children's books are easy to write. Generally they are much shorter, so whereas it takes me about a year to write a 100,000 word novel, a children's book may take less than a week. Those for younger children, especially, tend to be very short and basic, and for that reason there are a lot of writers who choose this market and are competing for a slice of the pie. You have to have a totally original and gripping idea to get noticed among them all.
  • Books for children are expensive to produce. They generally have many colourful illustrations (which cost a great deal to print even after you've paid the artist) and have to be hard-wearing so printed onto good quality paper, and sometimes even board. They may have gimmicks like "lift-the-flap" which add considerably to the cost. Yet the cover price of the book has to be kept as low as possible, because parents don't generally have a large disposable income. This means that profit margins are lower, which makes publishers more nervous about taking chances on unknown writers.

I don't want all this to put anyone off, because children's books are so important. It's fostering a love of books at an early age which leads to adults hungry for good stories, and those of us who write for those adults are grateful to the wonderful writers whose inspiring books for young readers created our audience.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Political Power of Words

Today is Margaret Thatcher's 85th birthday, so if I was ever going to blog about politics, now is probably the time to do it.

I recently began following a well-known American public figure on Twitter. This person is a much-admired and very talented LDS celebrity who happens to have some very strong political views which he is not afraid to make known. And I have been so shocked at the words he has chosen to make his views known that I have had to stop reading the tweets because it makes me feel troubled and angry.

To give you an idea, he describes the politicians in the party he doesn't support as "lazy, racist, moronic, blind, and hate America. " He calls their policies "evil" and says they "stink to high heaven, or hell as the case may be" adding "I hope they [those asked for support] all spit in your face!"

Now, I know nothing at all about American politics, but I know that I don't like those who slander and insult others, or spout vitriolic hate speech against them. I find myself feeling like the impartial passer-by in a playground fight standing with the victim against the bully. How can an educated, intelligent LDS man justify such a strongly worded assault? And it's not just him - I've heard several American LDS women speak (write) in scathing and scornful terms and with real loathing about politicians they dislike. (I've never heard a British LDS woman talk about politics at all since it's not really a polite topic of conversation here.)

Well chosen words can bring about a strong emotional response, and politicians know this as well as anyone else. A good soundbite, a catchy slogan, or maybe even a cleverly disguised insult, can sway voters. Steve Cone, who wrote a book called Powerlines: Words That Sell Brands, Grip Fans, and Sometimes Change History notes that the candidate with the catchiest slogan has always won the American presidential election. He also notes that candidates have run on the basis of a slogan which runs down the other side, and says nothing about their own. And they've won, purely by insulting the opposition.
Badly chosen words, such as those which criticise and belittle others, can have the effect of saying more about the speaker than those they attack.
So, to end, some great words from Margaret Thatcher who was Prime Minister for much of my youth.
"To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukaemia with leeches."
"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."
"Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country."